Henry Ford’s Hospital
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – arguably one of the most famous Latin American artists in history – struggled against many of life’s hardships including chronic pain, surgeries, infidelity and infertility.
The tragic elements of her life were well documented through her work and now, more than 50 years after her death, a surgical pathologist at the Harbor UCLA Medical Center believes he may have come up with the reason for her infertility by studying her paintings.
Dr Fernando Antelo believes that Kahlo likely suffered from a rare condition known as Asherman’s Syndrome, which is caused by scarring of the uterine cavity.
Antelo believes the streetcar accident that happened when Kahlo was just 18 could have led to the scarring that caused the syndrome, the symptoms of which include reduced menstrual flow, painful cramping or even the cessation of menstrual cycles altogether. The syndrome can also cause infertility or miscarriages.
Kahlo suffered many injuries from the accident that is thought to be the start of the artist’s career, including a broken spinal column, a broken pelvis and multiple broken bones. However, the most likely cause of the syndrome was the piercing of her abdomen by a metal handrail.
"The penetration of the streetcar handrail through Kahlo's adolescent body caused trauma to the uterus - critically injuring the endometrial lining and resulting in significant scar formation within the uterine cavity," Antelo said in a prepared release
"The scar formation in her uterine cavity is theorised to have played a role in the continual miscarriages and pregnancy failures that Kahlo experienced."
In her lifetime, Kahlo suffered from many miscarriages and was forced to have at least three abortions for medical reasons.
It is Kahlo’s paintings that provided the major clue for Antelo to make his hypothesis. Her 1932 painting Henry Ford’s Hospital
, which shows Kahlo on a bloody hospital bead surrounded by a snail, a female pelvic bone and a male foetus, is said to represent the child she wished to have and the long enduring pain of miscarriage.
"Kahlo shares with us her painful memories of miscarriage and loss," Antelo said. "As you study and recognise the anatomic detail in her paintings, you begin to realise that Kahlo has been talking to doctors and studying medical books."
Kahlo had chosen to pursue a course of premedical studies during high school, which Antelo took into account during his research. He suggested that Kahlo painted as a form of catharsis but she also used her work to demonstrate her extensive knowledge of the human reproductive system.